or a number of reasons, it seems as though the solo acoustic acts that performed at Woodstock have since become unavoidably associated withthe event, often to the detriment of their post-festival careers. Melanie, John Sebastian, and Richie Havens have all felt a backlash of recognition since that weekend, mostly because they cannot seem to outgrow the image of being spokespeople for the "Woodstock Nation." Considering that they had been used to playing to small crowds and coffeehouses, it's no wonder that the event left an indelible impression on thier psyche.
Melanie Safka was one of the more obscure performers to appear at Woodstock and apparently even had some difficulty in getting backstage. To walk onstage alone in front of a city of people who don't know you but are paying rapt attention while you perform can be a harrowing and humbling experience. Melanie, who had shown up unexpectedly at Woodstock and consented to perform, must have felt grateful for the nonjudgmental nature of the assemblage, who were relaxed and responsive despite the torrential downpours that continually plagued them.
Moved by the experience, Melanie authored "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" in which she attempted to capture the spirituality and magic of that moment. To convey a sense of the warm crowd, she envisioned hundreds of voices joining her on the chorus. The Edwin Hawkins Singers had recently hit the charts with "Oh Happy Day" so she asked the gospel group if they would be interested in accompanying her. She "auditioned" the song before the congregation, and once they decided that it was sufficiently spiritual in content, they agreed.
Melanie's vocal style combined flaky camaraderie with captivating passion and acted as a catalyst for the Edwin Hawkins Singers, who sing with all the controlled abandon that you would expect from a first-rate gospel group. Controlled abandon is also an apt description for what took place on that wet August weekend in 1969. By capturing the optimistic ideology and the powerful sense of love that was pervasive at Woodstock, Melanie's first hit record became a moving homage to a once-in-a-lifetime event.
After "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" became a number six single in the spring of 1970 and the Candles in the Rain album from which it was taken went gold, it became a ritual for Melanie's loyal fans to light candles at her shows. She would have another inspirational single, "Peace Will Come (According to Plan)," in the Top 40 later that summer and record a live album, Leftover Wine.
Melanie's biggest success was still yet to come -- the number one, three-million selling single "Brand New Key" -- which was released on the newly-formed Neighborhood label started by Melanie and her husband, Peter Schekeryk. Melanie followed up her huge hit with the Top 40 "Ring the Living Bell" and then performed and toured the world as a spokesperson for UNICEF.
After her career went into decline in the mid-Seventies and her Neighborhood label folded, Melanie was signed by a procession of labels that included Atlantic, Midsong and RCA for one-album deals. She then made a succession of albums for various small labels, including Blanche, Amherst, Precious Cargo and Lonestar into the mid-Nineties as she raised three children. In August 1994, she performed at a twenty-fifth anniversary gathering at the original Woodstock festival site in upstate New York.
- Thomas Ryan, American Hit Radio, Prima Entertainment, 1996.
Melanie will be 70 on 2/3/17. I've seen her a few times since the 70s over the years, and she continues to be an eloquent spokesperson not just for the Woodstock Generation, but for all people of the world, and she never fails to share of herself with fans. A gracious lady, and a wonderful, passionate performer.
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